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Business slow to automate

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While the majority of organisations worldwide are planning to automate business practices, with some jobs being discontinued as a result, less than a third of SA businesses are considering this course of action.

This is according to a new Grant Thornton International Business Report which researched the scale of technology’s influence on business.  The report highlighted that 56% of firms globally, and 31% of SA companies, are already automating or may do so in the coming 12 months. 

“The local situation is different for many reasons – including the high number of unskilled people, making it difficult for employees to operate more advanced machines or computers,” says Michiel Jonker, director: IT Advisory at Grant Thornton Johannesburg.

The Grant Thornton International Business Report (IBR) provides insight into the views and expectations of more than 10,000 businesses per year across 36 economies worldwide.  Research for this IBR Automation report is drawn from datasurveying 2,571 executives in 36 economies during February 2015.

Jonker adds that a failing government education system is not preparing young people for jobs in the 21st century, which is also referred to as the ‘second machine age’ and this is a major cause of the unacceptably high percentage of unskilled labour in this country.  Many matriculants cannot be considered for skilled employment, not to mention tertiary education, after school because of the poor quality education system in South Africa (e.g. low standards and pass rates).   

“Even if unskilled people get jobs, they are only trained to work in a specific sector,” he continues.  “If there are no longer any jobs in agriculture, for example, workers cannot simply move to the secondary sector as they do not have the required skills.  Unlike in the western world, where employees’ education background is a strong foundation, enabling them to move more easily between sectors, in SA the majority of workers are simply unable to jump from one sector to another – hence the occurrence of structural unemployment in South Africa.”

Jonker explains that structural unemployment is when unemployment for individuals lasts longer than usual due to issues in an economy, or a lack of skills across various industries which prevent workers from ‘cross trading’ their abilities. It’s when there’s a fundamental ‘mismatch’ between the skills which workers have vs those required and urgently needed in an economy or country.

Commenting on the IBR report, Steven Perkins, global leader for technology at Grant Thornton International, said: “In this digital age, businesses are looking to technology at an ever-increasing pace. Post-financial crisis, firms continue to strive for greater efficiency and better productivity. But fifty years on from PCs going into mass production, costs of capital are low while labour costs increase. As businesses consider whether to invest in staff or machines, for many, the latter is becoming the more cost-effective option.”

Despite this, the research reveals that 66% of SA businesses are not considering automating any business functions in the next 12 months, while only 3% might consider this.

“But automation will have to be introduced if we are to be globally competitive,” says Jonker.  “And there are several factors that will start driving automation here at home.  We face extraordinarily high labour costs, very low productivity and – compared to other countries, including the BRIC countries – entry salaries of young people are extremely high.

 “In addition, if we want to compete globally, we will have to play according to global rules. Productivity is extremely important for competition, which means that we have no choice but to automate.”

He notes that capitalism continues to demand maximisation of process, increasing output and decreasing input, all benefits offered by automation.

Jonker also affirms that there is a school of thought with a strong argument for rapid adoption of technology, as countries that do so benefit from higher per capita income than those that don’t.

“The Harvard School of Business revealed in a series of research papers that the rate at which nations adopted new tools hundreds of years ago strongly affected whether those nations are rich or poor today,’ said Jonker (Report by Associate Professor Diego A. Comin and colleagues).

“Technology is definitely an initiator for permanent change in society,” says Jonker.   “Research conducted by the World Bank entitled “Building broadband: Strategies and policies for the developing world” claims that a 10% increase in broadband penetration could raise GDP growth by 1 to 2% in low- and middle-income countries – a figure which is more than the impact which broadband penetration would have in high-income countries.”

Jonker emphasises that although this statistic is very much debated by different parties, and that it certainly differs from country to country, we cannot escape the fact that technology is causing change and bolstering globalisation – causing further problems for the South African economy and labourers with their low productivity (as globalisation means global competition, placing pressure on the labour market to be more productive).

Grant Thornton’s IBR findings also suggest that opportunities will arise for workers to assume new roles and responsibilities created by an increased use of technology. Globally over half of automating firms (54%) expect to redeploy workers in other areas, with 28% saying that workers will be trained to operate new machinery.

In South Africa, the IBR research revealed that 44% of firms that have automated, or intend to, said their people would be trained to use the new machines, while 32% expected automation to lead to a reduction in their organisation’s head count.

Jonker says the world will soon see new jobs that do not exist today and that automation will make people become redundant faster.

“We’re already seeing this in the IT environment where the ‘cloud’ is taking away certain traditional IT jobs,” he says.

“SA needs to accept that automation is going to happen, and that innovation will be key for economic growth.  We need to start encouraging our young people to consider jobs that cannot be replaced by automation.  They must design those robots, rather than going into occupations that will be replaced by robots.   For example, the introduction of more automation into the world is going to unleash many ‘dark forces’ that will exploit the enhanced level of system and data integration which will arise between millions of different parties, companies and systems. There is already a huge shortage of cybersecurity experts globally, and the upcoming generation will have to fill this new gap, especially if they want to live in a relatively safe world.

“Chances are extraordinarily high that it will be the repetitive (routine), uncreative jobs which will be automated. Certain parts of the world have already seen a decline in routine manual labour as well as cognitive jobs. It is only non-routine manual and cognitive jobs that are safe, as robots are not good at non-precision tasks – but only for now,” Jonker concludes.

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CES: And thanks for all the beer!

Last week, the Las Vegas expo showed off its fun side with state-of-the-art technologies for making and enjoying beer, writes BRYAN TURNER

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From craft beer-making machines to robots that pour beer, CES had more beer than usual in Las Vegas last week. And even free beer if you found the right stand. Stampede’s saloon-style booth offered beer to visitors who tried out its latest drones, virtual reality, and other gaming products. No beer tech, though.

Here are some of the beer technologies that stood out:

LG HomeBrew – Craft beer made at home

LG’s HomeBrew craft beer-making machine,  debuted at CES 2019, brings the brewing process home thanks to single-use capsules,  a self-cleaning feature, and an algorithm optimised for fermentation. 

Like a Nespresso coffee machine, the beer maker uses capsules, which contain malt, yeast, hop oil and flavouring. At the press of a button, LG HomeBrew automates the whole procedure from fermentation and carbonation to ageing. A companion app lets users check HomeBrew’s status at any time during the process, from their handsets.

The beer machine not only offers a simple way to make craft beer, but also enhances the quality of beer it makes. The fermentation algorithm intelligently controls the fermenting process with precise temperature and pressure control. It automatically sanitises itself, using nothing more than hot water, ensuring everything is hygienically clean for the next batch.

Designed with discerning beer lovers in mind, HomeBrew allows for in-home production of batches of more than 4 litres of beer in a variety of styles. The following five distinctive, flavoured beers are available now: 

  • Hoppy American IPA
  • Golden American Pale Ale
  • Full-bodied English Stout
  • Zesty Belgian-style Witbier
  • Dry Czech Pilsner

The only catch? It takes about two weeks to make, depending on the beer type.

“LG HomeBrew is the culmination of years of home appliance and water purification technologies that we’ve developed over the decades,” said Dan Song, president of LG Electronics Home Appliance & Air Solutions Company. “Homebrewing has grown at an explosive pace, but there are still many beer lovers who haven’t taken the jump because of the barriers to entry, like complexity, and these are the consumers we think will be attracted to LG HomeBrew.”

Click here to read about the party speaker that holds beer and robots that pour beer.

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CES: Alienware gets Legend-ary

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At CES in Las Vegas last week, Dell’s Alienware released a family of high-end, thin, light, and affordable machines for both amateur and professional gamers – and a new identity.

Alienware marked CES 2019 as a brand milestone with the debut of a new design identity, Alienware Legend. It aims to set a new bar of excellence for what gamers want most – performance and function. Alienware says it evaluated multiple concepts and chose one that was the biggest and boldest departure from its current look.

Alienware Legend, says the company, stays true to the brand’s core design tenets, taking cues from its deep roots in sci-fi culture and its early industrial designs, to distinguish the brand from the rest of the industry. The new Legend design is optimised with cutting-edge thermal cooling technology to achieve and sustain overclocking power, improved AlienFX lighting, and ultra-thin screen borders. It also unveiled a new “three-knuckle hinge” design that reduces the overall dimension while creating a stronger assembly, all combining to yield a better gaming experience.

“We’re excited to come to this year’s CES with some truly groundbreaking products, next-gen software and strategic partnerships that will bring more people to experience PC gaming and advance the industry,” said Frank Azor, vice president and general manager of Alienware. “The legend design answers the call for more and better from our gaming community, and the new G Series laptops will make PC gaming even more accessible to those looking for high-performance gaming at a cost they can appreciate.”

Click here to read about Alienware Legend in action with the Area-51m and m-series laptops

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